The musical production Footloose, now playing at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre, is truly entertaining.
Most of us have seen the 1984 movie Footloose with Kevin Bacon playing Ren, the kid from Chicago who moves to a small Texas town with his mom after his dad leaves them. (There actually is a 2011 version of the film as well but not as well known.) Both are based on a true story! A group of high school students in a small town of Elmore City, Oklahoma wanted to hold a Junior Prom in 1980. Dancing had been outlawed there since the late 1800’s but the teens managed to have the law overturned.
The score is written by Tom Snow with lyrics by Dean Pitchford who also wrote the original screenplay and the stage adaptation.
The Plot of Footloose
Ren, (Evan Blust), has just moved from Chicago to this small Texas town after his father leaves his family. He and his mom, Ethel (Kate Stark) move in with her brother, Wes Warnickle (Aaron Marshall) and his wife, Lulu (Chelsey Ross). Ren finds out that dancing is outlawed in the town and discovers that his nemesis, Reverend Shaw Moore (Jamie Cordes), controls the town and is against dancing, which Ren loves. Rev. Moore is grieving the loss of his son who died in a crash along with three other teens. The Reverend, changed after his son’s death, is now dealing with his rebellious daughter. Ariel (Savannah Slaby) wants to escape the town and her father. Ariel’s mother, Vi Shaw (Marya Cordes), attempts to get Ariel’s father to understand his daughter. Eventually, Ren opens up to the Reverend about his own life in a manner that the Rev. can relate to, changes his mind and gets the town to allow dancing again.
Great Lead Performances
Blunt has a Kevin Bacon/Patrick Swayze vibe. His energy is electrifying. His voice is powerful, his dancing…well, it is simply astounding that he can still talk after moving his body all over the stage with a finesse that is incredible to watch. At one point he is on his toes in a move that you simply have to say “wow”!
The Rev. and his wife have such a connection on stage! Well, it makes sense since they are actually married in real life. Maria Cordes has a lovely traditional voice. Ren’s mom, Ethel, played by Kate Stark, who supports her son through his trials and tribulations, is a superb actress and also has a lovely voice. Both Cordes’ and Stark’s performances rival any Hollywood actor.
My favorite character is undeniably Willard (Josh Galloway). He is Ren’s best friend. His antics, humor and wanting to fight yet never does, infuses the play with joy and silliness. Galloway is a natural actor and comedian. Another favorite of mine is Rusty (Juno Brosas), close friend of Ariel who becomes the girlfriend of Willard. Brosas’ enthusiasm, smiles and voice range keeps a smile on your face.
More Great Performances
The two other besties of Ariel, are Wendy Jo, (Chloe Olivia Esmeier) and Urleen (Makayla Shipe). Both have incredible voices as well, and are simply fun to watch. The guys who are back ups to Ren, Garvin (Donald Washington), Jeter (Zach Treinen), Bickle (Tommy Sanders) and another played by James Lindeman are really good dancers and support Blust’s performance. The foil for Ren, Chuck, (Ethan Kuchta), with his gang, Travis (Joe Gongaware) and Lyle (Evan Kupersmith) give an additional layer of conflict since Chuck is the rough guy who wants to control Ariel. All are amazing singers and dancers as well.
The other adults: Warnicker (Ren’s uncle), a cop and a part of the band; along with Justin Reilmann who plays the evil Coach Dunar and also a member of the band; Eliot Handkis who plays both Principal and Cowboy Bob (the lead singer of the band); Kyndra Dyanne Jefferies who plays the restaurant owner and a member of the town council; and Ross who plays Lulu, (Ren’s aunt) all do an incredible job in each of their roles. Note: Jefferies brings humanity to the play in both as a supporter of what is right (helping the underdog) but also what is wrong in this life (blindly following political leaders).
The ensemble is spectacular. Their voices and dancing in synchronicity adds to the energy and beauty of this play. As you can tell by now, this reviewer loved the play!
The choreography is complex when considering the amount of dancers. Several groups do different steps sequences at different times. Eric Byrd, both the Director and Choreographer, was assisted by Kate Stark who also played Ethel (Ren’s mom). I was blown away by the music. It sounded like a life production when, in fact, it is recorded. Music Director is Damon Stevens. Well done!
The Sound is perfect with absolutely no flaws. Each actor has a head worn mic. Beth Bolling-Joos and June Hill, the Costume Designers, do an incredible job, as well, especially considering that the costumes are authentic and the play requires many costume changes. Brett Bowling’s scenery takes the audience to a myriad of locations on one stage with scene changes that are quick and flowing.
This play will lift your spirits. While this reviewer enjoys small intimate theatres (under 99 seats like Falcon), it is always nice to see theatre in larger spaces with larger budgets, like the Ensemble (182 seats) or Warsaw Federal Incline’s 229 seats (as well as an occasional Aronoff production with over 3,000 seats or the Taft with 2,500). Footloose is a more elaborate production with the stage space for 26 talented singers and dancers! It makes one wonder why anyone would need to leave the greater Cincinnati area to see great theater.